AFP
Wire Service
4 minute read
10 Dec 2021
8:19 am

Hamilton v Verstappen: Title race goes down to the wire

AFP

Hamilton, chasing a record eighth title, empathised with the 24-year-old Verstappen, who is bidding for his first. 

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in discussion during the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix earlier this season. Picture: Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton applied his ‘poker face’ on Thursday ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he will attempt to claim an unprecedented eighth world title. 

Title rival Max Verstappen, meanwhile, said he hoped that the championship would not be settled by “controversial decisions” by the stewards.

Hamilton heads into Sunday’s season finale after three successive Grand Prix victories put him level on points with Red Bull’s Verstappen. 

A sixth win in 12 years at the Yas Marina Circuit would give the Briton the title.

“Obviously with the year that we’ve had, I am sure many people would have ruled us out being this close right at the end,” said Hamilton, 36, during Thursday’s pre-race press conference.

“It’s been an incredible group effort from everyone back at the factory and at the track. 

“No one has ever done eight before but I feel grateful.”

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Hamilton, who was 23 when he won his first title in 2008, empathised with the 24-year-old Verstappen who is bidding for his first title. 

“I remember what it’s like going for your first, so I know. I had those experiences and the rollercoaster of emotions that you go through,” he said.

The young Dutchman won comfortably in Abu Dhabi a year ago although Hamilton had already wrapped up the title by then.

“I wasn’t 100 per cent that weekend,” said Hamilton.

“But, still, they (Red Bull) were very, very strong here last year and they will be strong here again this weekend.”

Verstappen was cautious about his hopes of repeating that success and taking the crown on Sunday.

“After last year, I didn’t have a lot of hope that we would be sitting here at the end of the season fighting for a title,” he said. 

“But I think from the start, we were very competitive. We had good results, a bit of bad luck as well. But overall we can be really proud of the whole team effort.”

Controversy

Changes to make the Yas Marina circuit faster and wider could reduce lap time by up to 15 seconds and that could favour Mercedes and their new ‘spicy’ engine.

“I think the places where we were particularly weak are no longer there, so that’s positive,” said Hamilton

“But they (Red Bull) will still be strong in the new places.”

With more space to pass, the race should not suffer as many safety car interventions or red flags as last week’s chaotic contest in Jeddah, which also brought the latest in a catalogue of incidents between the two leaders this season.

At Silverstone, Verstappen ended up in the crash barriers. At Monza his Red Bull went airborne and landed on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes. In Saudi Arabia, Verstappen was ordered to give up the lead to Hamilton for an illegal manoeuvre and handed a five-second penalty.

That prompted suggestions, not least from former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, that the stewards were favouring Mercedes.

Both drivers played down the possibility that the title might be decided by the stewards.

“I think already, throughout the year, there have been a few things which were maybe a bit controversial,” said Verstappen.

“It is what it is. You can’t really do anything about it. I think we just have to focus on the positive for this weekend. We just want action on the track. 

“I think from both sides we want to win clearly and it should be about that, not about controversial decisions.”

Hamilton, who shares the record of seven titles with Michael Schumacher, welcomed race director Michael Masi’s warning about driving standards.

In his routine pre-race official notes, Masi signalled that the FIA will not tolerate the kind of deliberate ‘foul’ that has decided past  championships.

If neither man finishes, Verstappen will take the title because he has won more races.   

“It’s happened in the past obviously and I am sure the stewards then hadn’t taken the precautions they have this time around,” said Hamilton.

“I think it’s fair that they do it and, hopefully, they won’t need to be used and we have a great race.” 

“I’m here to do my job and don’t really want to see the stewards and they don’t want to see me.”